It’s Thursday, February 13, 2020, and the sold-out crowd at the State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick is excitedly waiting for the start of a Valentine’s Day Eve concert by one of America’s all-time favorite boy bands — Boyz II Men.
Boyz II Men is an R&B/hip-hop vocal group from Philadelphia, PA. The members created the ensemble while they were still students at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts where — thanks to the excellent acoustics — they often rehearsed in the school’s bathrooms.
As fans of the boy band, New Edition, the young singers named their group “Boyz II Men” from the New Edition song, “Boys to Men.” In 1989, the members got their big break when they sang “Can You Stand the Rain” backstage for New Edition member Michael Bivins who agreed to manage the fledgling group.
Boyz II Men’s first album, Cooleyhighharmony — produced by Bivins — was released in 1991. Unlike other groups which typically featured a lead singer upfront and a team of harmony singers in the background, Boyz II Men’s music featured all four members — tenor Wanya Morris, tenor Shawn Stockman, baritone Nathan Morris, and bass Michael McCary — singing lead. The ensemble successfully married the rhythmic excitement of hip-hop to tight vocal harmonies, thereby revolutionizing R&B music for a new generation of fans.
Cooleyhighharmony sold over nine million copies and won Boyz II Men a Grammy for Best R&B Performance at the 1992 Grammy Awards. In addition to recording a dozen additional albums, the group released such popular singles as “End of the Road,” “I’ll Make Love to You,” and “One Sweet Day” which all set records for the total of weeks spent at the top of the charts. Even today, Boyz II Men is still ranked fourth in music history for weeks in the #1 spot behind only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Mariah Carey.
In 2003, bass singer Michael McCary left the group and, since then, the remaining members have continued to record and tour as a trio.
In addition to performing around the world, the ensemble has appeared on television on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Dancing with the Stars and in commercials for GEICO and Old Navy. In 2017, a section of Broad Street in Philadelphia where the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts is located was renamed “Boyz II Men Boulevard,” forever memorializing the place where the singers first started harmonizing together as boys.
Inside the historic State Theatre auditorium, the lights dim and the crowd cheers as drums begin to play and the mellifluous voices of Boyz II Men members Shawn Stockman, Wanya Morris, and Nathan Morris can be heard before the singers are even seen.
Opening with their 1991 Top 5 hit, “Motownphilly,” the Boyz enter the stage singing, “Back in school we used to dream about this everyday/Could it really happen?/Or do dreams fade away?/Then we started singing them/They said it sounded smooth/So we started a group and here we are/Kickin’ it just for you” on this super high-energy hip-hop number.
Asking, “What’s the name of the group?” the crowd enthusiastically responds, “Boyz II Men!” Dancing as they sing, the trio creates a party atmosphere inside the State Theatre auditorium with their high-octane performance and smooth dance moves.
Shawn Stockman has the entire crowd echo him as he sings, “Oh yeah, oh yeah!” before he gets them screaming with their hands clapping over their heads.
The crowd goes wild when they hear the a cappella introduction to the group’s 1994 #1 single, “On Bended Knee.” Stockman starts off singing lead and the audience enthusiastically joins in on the well-known, “Can somebody tell me how to get things back/The way they used to be?/Oh God give me a reason/I’m down on bended knee” refrain.
After Nathan Morris takes over the main vocal, Wanya Morris sings lead, both receiving their share of adoration from the crowd on this R&B ballad as audience members’ arms continue to wave back and forth. Wanya does an extended vocal ending, his voice running up and down the scale as he sings on bended knee while orange colored lights swirl on the silvery background curtain behind him.
Stockman greets the crowd saying, “Happy Valentine Day’s Eve!” After dedicating tonight’s performance to “all the couples out there — and the singles — let it all be about love,” Stockman adds, “And thanks for selling this place out,” before joking, “If this is your first time seeing us, what took you so damn long? We’ve been at this for almost three decades!”
Stating, “Let’s go back to 1991,” the Boyz perform “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” a ballad they performed with Alicia Keys at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles just weeks ago in a powerful tribute to L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant. After Nathan sings, “I don’t know where this road is going to lead/All I know is where we’ve been/And what we’ve been through,” he gets so choked up with emotion that Wanya has to take over the lead singing, “If we get to see tomorrow/I hope it’s worth all the wait/It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.”
The audience reacts to this emotional performance with warm applause and cheers and the Boyz respond by performing their 1997 #1 hit, “4 Seasons of Loneliness.” Vocal harmonies float out over the audience as the singers’ voices blend and soar in layers of sound which drip with emotion and nuance, the point and counterpoint of the vocals creating waves of rich, full sound that cascade at times on this rhythmic R&B/hip-hop ballad.
Stockman picks up a guitar and Nathan plays bass on “Jammin’,” before Wanya asks, “Are you ready to rock with Boyz II Men tonight? Everybody out of your seats!” and the sold-out crowd happily obliges by standing and dancing to an extended medley of songs which begins with a rockin’ cover version of Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and a slow funky interpretation of Kravitz’ “American Woman.”
Wanya dances and gets audience members to wave their hands in the air on the Boyz’ funky rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” and Shawn Stockman sings lead and impresses with a wild distorted guitar solo on The Beatles’ “Come Together.”
Lights flash as the group sings its own 1998 hit, “Doin’ Just Fine” where Nathan’s rich baritone is featured.
Wanya does vocal gymnastics in the stratosphere on this smooth R&B ballad before Shawn Stockman joins in and lush harmonies float out over the crowd. The trio follows up with a cover version of Journey’s “Open Arms” where Stockman’s light tenor serenades the audience.
After taking a moment to shake hands with a female security guard at the front of the stage who is obviously enjoying the group’s performance, Stockman reveals to the crowd, “Certain things never get old. It’s cool when security is even singing along! That’s why we do this — we do it for you!”
The crowd cheers and Stockman says, “These next songs are Boyz II Men ‘classics’ because you made them ‘classics’,” joking, “You played them over and over, and you know every damn word!” Concluding by announcing, “Congregation rise! Put your hands in the sky like this!” Stockman demonstrates how to snap one’s fingers up in the air and bend down toward the ground, getting the crowd swaying back and forth to the group’s 1995 Top 5 single, “Water Runs Dry.”
Moving in sync with the trio, the audience sings along to the easy groove of the song’s melodic chorus, “Let’s not wait till the water runs dry/We might watch our whole lives pass us by/Let’s not wait till the water runs dry/We’ll make the biggest mistake of our lives,” on this R&B audience pleaser.
The crowd hoots, hollers, and cheers when the Boyz launch into their 1994 #1 hit single, “I’ll Make Love to You.” As the singers croon “I’ll make love to you/Like you want me to/And I’ll hold you tight/Baby all through the night” on this classic R&B ballad, they each hand out red roses to adoring fans in the audience who happily sing along with them to the music.
Following enthusiastic cheers, the group continues with their 1997 #1 R&B hit, “A Song for Mama.” All three vocalists take seats as they deliver the chorus of this heartfelt ballad singing, “Mama, Mama you know I love you/Mama, Mama you’re the queen of my heart/Your love is like tears from the stars/Mama I just want you to know/Lovin’ you is like food to my soul.” Audience members slowly wave their hands back and forth to the rhythm as the singers vocally improvise over the melody.
After Nathan announces to the crowd, “Help us sing this song tonight!” he handles the lead on the group’s 1995 #1 mega-hit with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day.”
The audience helps out by singing Mariah Carey’s verse before everyone joins in on the famous “And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven/Like so many friends we’ve lost along the way/And I know eventually we’ll be together/One sweet day” chorus of this classic power ballad.
“Wow! New Jersey is in the building! You know what good hard-loving music is!” exclaims Wanya before adding, “This is real music — music with lyrical content — to laugh to and to cry to.”
Nathan starts off singing the lead on the final song of the evening — Boyz II Men’s 1991 #1 smash, “End of the Road.” With the audience on its feet standing and swaying, music lovers in the crowd participate in a communal experience of lyric and melody as they sing, “Although we’ve come/To the end of the road/Still I can’t let go/It’s unnatural/You belong to me/I belong to you.’
All three singers add gorgeous harmony parts to the mix, bringing love and nostalgia to the packed house as the happy audience stands and cheers for Boyz II Men.
The group members bow deeply and shake hands with fans in the crowd before exiting the stage.
As the audience filters out of the auditorium, we chat with several in attendance this evening who share their thoughts on Boyz II Men’s performance.
Comments Dawayne from Mt. Laurel, “Boyz II Men is a great group! This was a beautiful concert — I loved it from beginning to end. The voices were superb and there was nonstop energy coming from both the stage and the crowd.”
Generra from Clifton agrees, calling Boyz II Men “Really awesome!” Adding, “They brought me back to the ‘90s,” Generra notes, “And they still sound as great as they do on their records.”
TJ from Brick acknowledges, “I’m a long-time fan of Boyz II Men, but this is my first time seeing them live.” Asserting, “I loved them, and I want to see them again,” TJ confesses, “ and I have to say that ‘A Song for Mama’ really got to me.”
Barbara from Brick concurs adding, “That performance was just amazing — it brought me to tears.”
Allison from Rahway calls Boyz II Men’s concert tonight “Excellent,” asserting, “They’ve still got it,” before declaring, “And I got a rose from Nathan — I just put out my hand and he gave it to me!”
Similarly, Jenayah from Belleville remarks, “Boyz II Men was just awesome tonight!” recalling, “I grew up on their music — I used to have their cassettes and listen to them on my Walkman on the bus.” Revealing, “I got a rose from Shawn tonight,” Jenayah confesses, “but Wanya is my favorite; he touched my pinkie when Shawn gave me the rose,” before noting, “Every year, they perform at Epcot in mid-November so we try to plan our Disney trip around seeing them.”
Jenayah’s husband, Nehemiah, concurs adding, “I’m a fan of their music, too, and they’re really good guys — I even went up to Shawn and shook his hand telling him, ‘Thank you for giving my wife a rose.”
Jacqueline from Keansburg reveals, “This is my first time seeing Boyz II Men. They’re my favorite group,” explaining, “My son bought me tickets as a gift — I loved the show and had a great time!”
Gwen from Bayonne agrees noting, “Three generations of my family were here tonight — we all just love Boyz II Men’s music!”
Steve from Bayonne adds, “This is the soundtrack to to my childhood — my mom played this music for me and now I love it, too.”
Lastly, we chat with Michelle from Piscataway, who says, “This was one great show! I’ve been following Boyz II Men for years — I’ve seen them many times and they still sound exactly the same,” before concluding, “They’re freaking awesome!”
To learn more about Boyz II Men, please go to boyziimen.com. For information on upcoming performances at State Theatre New Jersey — including A Capella Live on March 7, Celtic Woman on March 17, Straight No Chaser on April 7, and The Temptations and The Four Tops on May 15 — please click on stnj.org.
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